The beginning of the year is right around the corner, and it’s simultaneously the most terrifying and exciting time of the year for me.
It’s terrifying because most elite status counters are reset on January 1, so overnight I’ll go from being complacent in all programs (having requalified early for all elite levels this year) to starting my mad rush for status.
And the beginning of the year is also an exciting time for the same reasons it’s terrifying — there’s a sense of excitement as you once again plan your travel strategically, and smile as you slowly see the elite “counters” of various programs grow until you’ve requalified.
This year I was fortunate to requalify for all status levels fairly early in the year, so I’ve been more or less on cruise control for the past couple of months. On one hand it’s a nice feeling, though on the other hand I feel like I’ve been a lazy miles/points addict. For example, I hardly even took advantage of American’s double miles promotion (which would have netted me a minimum of 300% base redeemable miles on all my travel as an Executive Platinum member), since I didn’t really have a need to mileage run.
This is also a year of change for me, having moved from Tampa to Seattle. Frankly this doesn’t present a huge change on the airline front. While I now fly Alaska as well, fares out of Seattle are reasonable, and I’m still living on a coast, which is good for mileage running.
The biggest change has actually been on the hotel front. Tampa was great for mattress running, given that there were several Hyatt and Starwood properties for (substantially) under $100 per night.
The same isn’t true in Seattle, where hotels are generally $150+ per night, which isn’t very handy for mattress running. And speaking of hotel loyalty programs, this isn’t 2010 anymore. Back then hotels had super lucrative promotions that made mattress running not only affordable, but a no brainer. For example, Hyatt used to offer “Faster Free Nights,” whereby you’d earn one free night after every two stays. Two stays at a Hyatt Place for $80 each netted you a free night at the Park Hyatt Tokyo, Sydney, etc. And that was only the beginning.
Promotions simply aren’t as lucrative anymore, so I’m having to think twice about the value of mattress running for hotel status. After all, this hobby is all about crunching the numbers and making the right financial decisions (with a bit of impulse buying and irrationality thrown in for good measure), and not about blindly trying to reach a counter.
With that in mind, I figured I’d share my 2013 elite status goals:
Requalify for Hyatt Gold Passport Diamond status — 25 stays or 50 nights
This remains one of my favorite top tier hotel status levels, given that I find they consistently under promise and over deliver. In Tampa they had several properties that were under $80 per night, so mattress running was easy. In Seattle their cheapest properties are $150+ per night, so that’s not great for mattress running.
This is the one hotel status level that I’ll have to qualify for with no tricks. Unlike many of the other chains, Hyatt doesn’t count award stays towards status either, so the 25 stays or 50 nights is in addition to any award stays. Now, Hyatt did add some benefits to their co-branded Chase Hyatt Visa Card just a couple of months ago, including two stay credits and five nights towards Diamond status if you spend $20,000 on the card annually, and an additional three stay credits and five nights towards Diamond status if you spend $40,000 on the card annually, for a total of five stays and 10 nights towards status. That being said, I really don’t think putting the spend on that card is worth it for the additional credits, though I do still keep the card for the annual free night certificate redeemable at any category one through four hotel.
So I guess I might just try to entice my mom with some staycations in Tampa and see if she’ll mattress run for me. You can usually add a second guest to the reservation and still get the elite credit, so that might just be my best bet. Of course I’ll try to do this as much as possible during whatever turns out to be Hyatt’s most lucrative promotion. They’ve yet to announce any of their 2013 promotions, so I’m curious to see what they have in store for us. Given how good elite benefits are, I’m not necessarily expecting anything great.
Requalify for Starwood Preferred Guest Platinum status — 50 nights
Starwood has been awesome to us over the past year or so, and really made requalifying easier while adding more benefits.
First, just over a year ago they started counting award stays towards status. As a leisure traveler this is huge, since it means you can redeem points for a stay and still have it count towards your status requalification.
After that they added a bunch of new elite benefits for both Gold and Platinum members. One of those benefits was free breakfast for Platinum members as an amenity option, which has proven awesome, at least outside the US (I’ve found most foreign properties offer Platinum members the full buffet, while many US properties simply offer Platinum members a croissant and coffee).
Another benefit they added is 10 suite night awards for Platinum members that stay at least 50 nights per year, allowing Platinum members to confirm a suite upgrade up to five nights before arrival. While you can qualify for Platinum status through either 25 stays or 50 nights, this benefit has pushed me towards requalifying through the latter, since I value those 10 suite night awards.
The last thing they made official this year is that up to three rooms per night can count towards elite status. So if there’s a reasonably priced hotel (or if I find myself in Tampa, for example) it could make sense to purchase three rooms in a night to ensure requalification).
Also helping me requalify are the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express and Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Card from American Express OPEN, each of which offer two elite stay credits and five elite night credits towards Platinum status annually. Between the two cards that gets me four stays and 10 nights towards status annually, meaning I only need 21 stays or 40 nights for Platinum status (and I qualify via nights since I want the suite night awards).
Qualify for Hilton HHonors Diamond Status — $40,000 of spend on the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Visa Card
I know, I have two top tier status levels to requalify for, do I really need a third? Probably not, though I can’t help but think it doesn’t hurt either. The thing is that while most destinations are fairly well covered between Hyatt and Starwood, they really don’t have hotels everywhere I travel, especially when traveling to smaller towns. That’s where Hilton, Marriott, and Priority Club shine.
The Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Visa Card offers Gold status for as long as you have the card, and that gets you free internet and breakfast, which are two of the most valuable hotel status perks, in my opinion. So in a way I should be happy with that for those occasions where I have to stay at a Hilton.
The funny thing is that there really aren’t that many marginal benefits for Diamond status with Hilton (compared to Gold). Diamond members earn more bonus points on stays, are guaranteed lounge access (while it’s on a space available basis for Gold members), and are permitted suite upgrades at the hotel’s discretion (which basically means nothing), though beyond that any difference in benefits are property dependent and beyond the T&Cs.
However, for $40,000 of spend on the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Visa card you earn Diamond status, and that spend shouldn’t be too tough to “manufacture” without too much out of pocket. I happen to think the return on the card isn’t bad to begin with, at three HHonors points per dollar spent on base spend, so I think I’ll go for it.
Besides, I have a bunch of Hilton points through the recent American Express Virgin Atlantic transfer bonus, which I’ll be looking to redeem for AXON awards at Conrad properties.
Qualify for Kimpton Inner Circle — 15 stays
I’ve been mildly obsessed with Kimpton Inner Circle since this post a few days ago. They’re an intriguing hotel chain for reasons discussed in that post, and I’ve already status matched to Inner Circle, which requires 15 stays to requalify for.
The program seems totally awesome and I love the fact that they’re all boutique hotels so won’t feel like a standard chain property, though the issue is that they have just a bit over 50 properties, in only a bit over a dozen cities. The funniest part has to be that most of their cities have multiple hotels just a couple of blocks apart, so it’s good for mattress running.
On the plus side their hotels are well located for my travels. They have properties in Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego, all of which I visit with some regularity.
I’ll have my first Kimpton stay in a few days, so will report back. A friend who rarely cusses just status matched to Kimpton Inner Circle as well and sent me an email about her first stay, summed up as “it was f*&^$(@ awesome.”
Requalify for American AAdvantage Executive Platinum status — 100,000 elite qualifying miles/points
This should be the easiest of all. This year I more than double requalified for Executive Platinum status, though that was in large part thanks to the promotions they ran. This had to be the single most rewarding year in terms of promotions for a single airline, as American offered double elite qualifying miles for the beginning of the year, and double elite qualifying miles (elite qualifying and redeemable) and points for the last couple of months as well.
As usual I’ll do a couple of quick trips to China upgraded with some of my eight systemwide upgrades to start off the year and get a head start on status, and I suspect my regular domestic travel will get me the rest of the way there.
Qualify for Alaska Mileage Plan MVP Gold or MVP Gold 75K — 50,000 elite qualifying miles or 90,000 elite qualifying miles
I status matched to Alaska MVP Gold a couple of months ago, and the status match is good through the end of next year. To maintain MVP Gold I have to earn either 40,000 elite qualifying miles on Alaska Airlines, or 50,000 elite qualifying miles on Alaska Airlines and their partner airlines.
That sounds easy in theory, though the primary reason I fly Alaska is for their network up and down the west coast, and it’s really tough to get to 50,000 miles with mostly sub-1,000 mile flights.
I suppose I could take some transcontinental mileage runs when there’s a fare sale, though based on my understand (someone please correct me if I’m wrong!) upgrades are nearly impossible on transcons, unlike up and down the coast. And I can’t imagine voluntarily doing a direct turn transcon mileage run when they don’t have any power ports aboard, because that’s the point at which there’s a huge opportunity cost for time (I find with a power port and wifi I’m more efficient than on the ground, as I have fewer distractions).
At the same time, taking a completely opposite approach, if I go for MVP Gold it seems worth the marginal travel to go for MVP Gold 75K, which requires either 75,000 elite qualifying miles on Alaska Airlines, or 90,000 elite qualifying miles on Alaska Airlines and their partner airlines. That’s because you get 50,000 bonus miles for earning MVP Gold 75K, so when you factor in how many bonus miles you’d earn (in addition to base miles and the 100% mileage bonus), it almost seems worthwhile…
What are your elite status goals for 2013?
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